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Crawford recall election date to be set by council

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Crawford town clerk Cally Gallegos verified Tuesday that a petition to recall Mayor Wanda Gofforth has been deemed sufficient to trigger a recall election. Council will set an election date, possibly in February, said Gallegos. Those seeking to replace Gofforth, should she be recalled, must go through the petition process to get on the ballot.

Recall committee members Patrick O'Shaughnessy, Jessica Hart and Jason Harry cite three reasons for the recall effort: that Gofforth has wasted taxpayer money, has failed to conduct town and executive meetings in compliance with Colorado Open Meeting statutes, and has exceeded her authority as mayor.

They believe Gofforth acted on her own in hiring town attorney James Brown to represent town clerk Cally Gallegos in a civil protection order. Gallegos filed the order in Delta County Court against Crawford resident Carl Page on June 30 following a June 29 argument at Town Hall. Page had visited Town Hall to request the email addresses and phone numbers of council members. Page, who ran for council in April, has been vocal about his disagreements with Gofforth, and with former mayor Susie Steckel, against whom he attempted a recall in 2014 over attempts to establish a municipal court.

In August, District Judge Sandra Miller dismissed the complaint.

Since July, town council, in approving payment of monthly bills, has approved more than $7,000 in legal fees to town attorney James Brown with Brown & Camp, LLC, in Delta. That's $4,500 above the $2,500 budgeted for 2016, The recall effort is likely to trigger more legal costs.

The town's agenda and minutes of the July 6 meeting and July 22 work session don't indicate discussion or votes related to the case. Council did vote to enter into executive session on July 6 to discuss "personnel matters." The minutes reflect no action was taken following the session.

At the July 22 work session it was revealed that Brown would represent Gallegos. Asked when council voted to have the town attorney represent Gallegos, Gofforth replied that she phoned all of the trustees individually and that "it was approved by the attorney..."

Trustees Chriss Watters and Tammy Broughton told the DCI that Gofforth called sometime around July 6, but couldn't recall the date. Both said they thought they were being asked to approve the town's support of Gallegos in court and that Gofforth didn't mention anything about joining in the protection order or approving the use of Brown's services.

Watters said it was his understanding that council members can speak one-on-one, and believed that's what he was doing. "I'm not sure we voted on anything," he said.

"I don't think anybody really voted for it," trustee John Paton told the DCI. During his conversation with Gofforth, he said, no mention was made of the town entering into the case. He said Gofforth asked him if he favored the town supporting Gallegos and having an attorney present, since Page had sought legal advice. 'It was just in regards to having the attorney represent Cally," said Paton.

Paton defends Gofforth's right to make the decisions due to "exigent circumstances." He referred to an Aug. 12 letter addressed to the town in which Page demanded $50,000 to cover his legal fees and for defamation of character unless Gofforth resign and Gallegos' job be terminated. "There was no other way to do it," said Paton.

Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said that in using this logic, "The board could pass just about anything this way, and the public would be completely shut out of the process."

C.R.S. 24-6-401 and 402, also known as Colorado Sunshine Law, states in its open meetings policy that local public bodies may not adopt "any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, or regulation or take formal action by secret ballot," wrote Roberts in an email. Once the mayor told other council members and the public there was a majority vote, "I think residents of the town had good reason to ask why this wasn't a violation."

It's "arguably ok . . . for a mayor to poll members of a council one by one as long as she keeps that information to herself," Roberts wrote. "But once she conveys the position of one council member to a third council member, that's considered to be a 'walking quorum' or 'serial meeting,' which circumvents the quorum requirement of the Sunshine Law." It appears that council took a vote "without notifying the public, without allowing the public to participate in the process and without telling the public how each member of the council voted."

When asked for comment on the recall, Gofforth referred to her Oct. 26 letter to the editor in the DCI and other local publications. In it she denies that neither she nor council violated state statute. Gofforth also wrote that she sought legal advice from the town attorney.

"Everything done has been by the advice of council," Gofforth told the DCI.

Page's request to terminate Gallegos was not backed by council, Gofforth told the DCI. That council stood behind her "speaks for itself." She also pointed out that she hasn't voted on anything since being elected mayor last April.

The office of Brown and Camp declined to comment.

The only trustee to publicly speak out against the civil case is Broughton. She was absent from the July 6 meeting, but at the July 22 work session she openly criticized Gallegos for reporting Page to law enforcement following their argument. At the Aug. 3 meeting Broughton voted against paying the bills due to a $50 invoice from Delta County Sheriff's Office for serving Page with the protection order.

The town has also requested a sheriff's deputy be posted at recent public meetings, an action O'Shaugnessey referred to as "intimidation."

A vote by the board "should have been done at the meeting and not over the telephone behind closed doors," said O'Shaugnessey. He believes that in entering the case, council was attempting to ban a citizen they disagree with from public meetings and failed.

"The decision has now cost taxpayers $7,000 and running," said O'Shaughnessy.

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